Indian Summer Festival’s Punch Up – Laughter in the face of adversity

Anoushka Ratnarajah from Indian Summer Festival (ISF) is curating a stand-up comedy show, Punch Up, that will explore the theme of interconnectedness through a diverse line-up of comedians who have conventionally been the target of jokes.

Featuring Joanne Tsung, a first-generation queer Taiwanese immigrant to Canada, and Savannah Erasmus, an Indigenous comedian well-known for her fashionable persona, amongst others, Punch Up creates space for historically marginalized jokesters to reclaim their creative and social power.

Anoushka Ratnarajah is a mixed race, queer femme of Sri Lankan and British ancestry, and an interdisciplinary and transnational artist and arts organizer. | Photo by K. Ho.

ISF will return this July 6 to 16 with 10 events featuring multimedia artists. With the theme of inter/dependence, the festival aims to destabilize the myth of individualism by showcasing the human nature to seek connections and depend on one another. As part of its 13th rendition, the anti-oppression, resistance-fuelled performance, Punch Up, will take place on Wednesday, July 12 at Granville Island’s Performance Works venue.

“The idea for the name of this event was taken from the ethos of comics that I enjoy and respect – using comedy to ‘punch up’ – to make fun of systems, people, and institutions that hold power over us instead of the usual tradition of comedy in which marginalized people are the ones being made fun of,” says Ratnarajah.

Diversity in comics

Chosen with the intention of creating space for queer, trans, and artists of colour, Punch Up’s line-up features comics that are frequently marginalized by both the artistic industry and society at large. In accordance with the festival’s theme, Ratnarajah points out how the pandemic uncovered the human yearning for interdependency – a need from which artists, particularly those from traditionally marginalized backgrounds, are not immune.

“I think we realized we all have an effect on each other,” says Ratnarajah. “Even though we were forced to stay apart, it became very clear that we are an inter-dependent species, and people are starting to think and evaluate how we can get back in touch with each other and the environment.”

One of the comics that will be performing is Tsung who is most well-known for her work on OUTtvGO’s Killjoy Comedy, a stand-up comedy series that spotlights those who have historically been the sources of jokes. Tsung will be joined by Tin Lorica, who has appeared on CBC’s The New Wave of Stand-up, and Kamal Pandya, a returning comedian whose work has been described by ISF as a mix of sarcasm and tenderness. Two Indigenous comedians – Sasha Mark and Savannah Erasmus – will also take the stage.

“All the comics in the line-up come from identities you wouldn’t see on stage during comedy clubs 10 years ago,” Ratnarajah says. “It’s super exciting to experience humour and perspective from folks who have not been able to access those kinds of stages.”

Laughing through dark times

As evident through its line-up, the comedy that will be showcased at Punch Up is expected to address difficult topics concerning social oppression, including white supremacy and the patriarchy. For Ratnarajah, laughter is one of the coping mechanisms for people who experience racial, gender and other forms of oppression.

“We have a pretty incredible capacity for being able to bring out laughter even in the direst of circumstances,” Ratnarajah says. “There will be some dark humour, but we’ll always bring it back to the lightness – it would be really refreshing for folks to see what kind of talent Vancouver has in terms of comedy.”

Through these comics’ willingness to share absurd personal experiences, Ratnarajah hopes that Punch Up will encourage new perspectives. In addition, Ratnarajah’s wish is also that these comics will gain new followers that will help further their careers, which is all the more important when it comes to fostering spaces for marginalized stories.

“I just hope people laugh so much till their stomach hurts and that folks learn something new and they feel seen,” Ratnarajah says. “I hope that there are stories that get told on stage that resonate with them, change or blow their minds in some way.”

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